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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Turkish Diplomacy Deserves Recognition and Support

October 13, 2023
Hoping to build on its previous success in mediating a grain deal and a prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine, Türkiye has offered to serve as mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The country maintains relations with both parties to the conflict, and though the mediation would be complex, Ankara’s allies should support it in this endeavor.

Recent statements from Türkiye's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other government officials indicate that the country is pursuing a delicate balancing act between its support for the Palestinian cause and the need to maintain a constructive relationship with Israel. This stance mirrors the approach Ankara took toward the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which Galip Dalay described as being "pro-Kyiv without being overtly anti-Moscow".

After Hamas launched its attacks against Israel, the Turkish foreign ministry expressed deep concern over the loss of civilian lives, affirmed its engagement with relevant parties, and extended an offer of support for de-escalation efforts. Erdoğan, who otherwise is known for his strong anti-Israel rhetoric, called on both parties to exercise restraint and refrain from aggressive actions. He later declared that Türkiye is ready to mediate in the conflict, including by negotiating a prisoner exchange.

Türkiye's choice to pursue a diplomatic balancing act in this conflict represents a significant departure from its previous anti-Israel stance. Four primary reasons underpin this strategic shift. First, the conflict started with a massive terrorist attack by Hamas. Second, Türkiye is working to mend its relationships with countries in its neighborhood, including Israel, and with its Western allies. Third, Ankara genuinely fears that the crisis will escalate into a regional conflict with far-reaching implications for Türkiye's security and economy. Fourth, Türkiye wants to build on its previous success in mediating between Russia and Ukraine, when it facilitated a prisoner exchange and a grain deal.

Mediating between a state actor that is unpopular in Türkiye and a militant group that many of Türkiye’s allies categorize as a terrorist organization would undoubtedly be complex. But the effort could help prevent further civilian casualties and the expansion of the conflict into a regional war—goals that Türkiye shares with its transatlantic allies.

Despite its more balanced approach, the Turkish leadership’s discourse is still essentially pro-Palestinian. Indeed, Europe and the United States criticize Ankara for maintaining ties to Hamas. But Türkiye’s potential as a mediator lies in its relations with both parties to the conflict. To succeed, Ankara will need to manage the mood of the Turkish public, coordinate closely with other Middle East stakeholders, and communicate effectively with both Hamas and Israel.

Turkish diplomacy deserves recognition, and Ankara’s allies should support it in this challenging endeavor.